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Jack Zaleski, Published February 09 2013

Zaleski: Waiting for No. 5 from Jeffrey Lent

One of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Lent, of Vermont, is completing a fifth novel that is expected to be in bookstores in the spring. If No. 5 is anything like the first four, Lent’s fans are in for another wonderful reading experience.

I met him a few years ago. His children go to the same Vermont school as my daughter’s triplet girls. They are neighbors, and my daughter baby-sat the Lents’ girls when they were young. Last fall, Lent and I ran into each other at a school event. We chatted about everything from oil field fracking to the differences between agriculture in Vermont and North Dakota, but he gave no hint about the theme or plot of his new novel.

I’ve written at length about his work before. But as a reminder – and a prod to read his books again – here’s a brief review of his first four novels.

“Lost Nation,” my favorite, is a saga set in the early 19th century in far north reaches of what were to become Vermont and New Hampshire. It follows the lives of intriguing characters enmeshed in hardship, hope and even love. It is marvelous storytelling, rich with history, atmosphere and compelling prose.

“In the Fall” weaves a multilayered tale across three generations that carries the reader from Virginia and North Carolina to Vermont and back again. Long-hidden family secrets, darkened by race and suicide, drive this complex and disturbing saga.

“After You’ve Gone” is a love story fractured by tragedy and loss, the hope for redemption and a haunting father-son relationship. Without giving anything away, the breath-catching end of the novel had me shouting, “No! No! No!”

“A Peculiar Grace” (sometimes I think this one is my favorite) has been praised as “one of the best books by … gifted American novelists since William Faulkner.” High praise, indeed, from Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher. It’s justified. It’s an extraordinary story of a troubled artist in modern-day Vermont, who lives alone and isolated, until two women – one from his past and another who stumbles into his isolation – change the dark trajectory of his life. The enigmatic ending still has me shaking my head, although Lent has told me what he meant.

So, there you have it. If you’ve read Lent’s books, read them again. If you’re not familiar with his novels, you are in for a treat. Beat it to your bookstore, access Amazon or crank up the Kindle and get them. The first four, each of which probes the pain and triumph of the human condition, will whet your literary appetite for No. 5.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.